Wednesday, 15 August 2012

On the Road again


 
Most of us probably think that the great freeway systems built through Europe and North America just before and in the decades after World War Two as the beginning of super road history around the world. True, four-lane, six-lane and eight-lane freeways hadn't been seen before, nor had the vehicles designed to use them. But if you want to know when the world's first super highway was built, you've got to go a long way back before the internal combustion engine was invented...to 312BC to be exact.

Meet the Appian Way. Running 112-miles southeast of Rome, linking Italy's second largest city, Capua, to the capital, and then to the eastern port - and stepping off point for several invasions of Greece - Brundisium. Thirty-three feet wide, paved throughout and able to sustain a century's worth of road traffic between repairs. But this road was the just the beginning. Thousands of miles of paved two-lane highway (the Romans drove on the left) would be built across Western Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - most of which continued to be the Western World's only land transport corridors well into the 19th Century.

And no, these roads weren't built by toiling slaves slashed by whips and chains...they were built by Roman soldiers, paid professionals who used complex surveying equipment barely bettered by today's laser technology to pour concrete and build pavements as good as anything we drive on. So if the Roman's had incredible roads, then their horse drawn road vehicles must have been a bit more complicated than the archaic contrivances we see in the movies...I guess that sounds like another blog.